The term Orwellian has become a part of our collective lexicon as a means of
describing the prototypical horrific vision of the future, or an indication
that such a prediction has been realized. Before Orwell began 1984, however,
and before Huxley put pen to paper to write A Brave New World, Yevgeny
Zamyatin provided the world with We, a bleak prognistication of the world to
come, from beyond the filter of Orwell's anti-Communist idealogy.
In Zamyatin's fantasy, the overarching values of collective assimilation
are realized in the formation of OneState, wherein one finds the individual I
obliterated to become the we of the masses. Everyone wakes as one,
everyone eats as one, and the industrial concept Huxley dubbed "Fordism"
similarly controls the daily regimen of the citizenry. The society itself lives
within a great Green Wall, barring them from contacting what can obviously
be interpreted as a state of nature, a green pastoral that directly contrasts the
pristine and angular landscape of the enclosed cityscape.
Within this world, Zamyatin gives us D-503, the creator of the INTEGRAL, a
spaceship designed to spread the messages of OneState to the
supposed citizens of other planets, to whom D-503 writes. He begins as a
pragmatic mathematician to whom the reason and rationality of OneState
provides validation and edification, and means to write an account of
OneState's perfection to those of other, assumedly inferior people. He writes
mockingly of "the ancients," referreing to Zamyatin's contemporary culture,
antagonizing their freedom and their inability to compute morality within the
rational terminology of arithmatic. His life is governed by the codes of
OneState, to the point of scheduled sexual encounters with his registered
partner, O, who provides more validation through her child-like adoration. He
is happy, as it seems happiness here is dictated by one's inability to think
freely, but merely accept one's existence as part of the whole.
However, the aptly-named I-330 begins dismantling this blissful ignorance,
drawing him into a self-consciousness that breaks open a new feeling of
imaginative freedom and the disease known as a soul. As the narrative
continues, her power becomes greater, as the author cunningly portrays the
disintegration of the hive-mind consciousness from within D-503's own pen,
using the novel's form and content to guide a story laced with personal
anguish and self-realization, though still retain the distance necessary to
present it as an account, separate from the fictional novel. OneState becomes
reality to the reader, more than even the Big Brother society of Orwellian
fantasy, and in the pages that follow, Zamyatin allows a truly human story to
emerge within the confines of his futuristic nightmare.